I wonder if there’s any other film that has been ‘scanned’ as much as Ponniyin Selvan. At the teaser launch, Mani Ratnam said the most important words we needed to hear: “Like how anyone who’s read the novel has their imagination of the characters and interpretation of the story and is possessive about it, this is my interpretation”. This is how any adaptation should be viewed. A good filmmaker should have the right to make a story of their own.
Anyone making a historical fiction in today’s scenario is addressing a target audience who belongs to the under-30 age group who may or may not be aware of the history of fiction in the first place. Mani Ratnam and team Ponniyin Selvan surely know this as much as we do! The tremendous response to the teaser proves that they have hit the bull’s eye in round one. But why does it have to be this difficult for one of India’s long-standing and best filmmakers ever, to impress you and me!
Social media has taken away a virtue which was present in our DNA before our views began to be contained in 280 characters. Being non-judgemental and open is a rarity in the online world, these days. Trolling might well be a special skill that people will put down in their resumes! I’ve seen a few tweets from ‘non-cinematographer handles’ that have attempted to colour-correct images from the teaser and declare that the film team should perhaps do better grading. Seriously? Do we think we know more about cinematography than Ravivarman? What next? Are we going to teach AR Rahman how to write music? Knowing to use an Instagram filter and operating a film camera are two entirely different talents.
This apart, the level of scepticism on how Mani Ratnam might have written dialogues to how he might have handled the various characters, needs Kalki to come back to assuage our good hearts by telling us, “Dude, I couldn’t have got a better filmmaker to handle my story, relax!” And this is just for the teaser; the trailer remains to be seen, the songs have not been released and the main picture, the whole of it for crying out loud, is yet to be released.
But we happily pinpoint every single presumed flaw. Industry naysayers have another angle on how the average 15-year-old will only prefer to watch a Marvel movie or a Jurassic World. Now, statistics and surveys are mere lampposts, but they do not become the road itself. If one were to heed an industry insider, one should only make a film with those names who are on the top—say, Vijay or Ajith—and have music by Anirudh to get 100 million views for videos. Has pure cinema come to merely views now? The hero and music director are on top of the pecking order for determining the business of a film, so where does it leave the director? In the case of a Mani Ratnam movie, he comes right on top. Ponniyin Selvan is going to be no different in the filmmaker’s effort to give us cinematic excellence. The teaser has lived up to that much. I doubt whether Scorsese or Coppola or Spielberg would be dissected thus even before their movie is out.
The teaser clearly shows that action and emotion will go hand in hand in this Chola saga. The unrequited love of Karikalan for Nandini, the strife to safeguard the kingdom, and the various crossfires between characters, make it a stand-alone movie that is hopefully not a word-by-word representation of the book. Karikalan’s lament rings loud in my ears while the fleet of ships soars through the Chola waters. The epic shift from Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvanin print to Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan on-screen has happened. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is cinematic history.